INTO THIN AIR – Jon Krakauer

I was sent this as a gift and after two recommendations I was expecting a “Boys’ Own” high action adventure (not my type of thing but I had promised to read it) but that’s not what it is at all. It wasn’t a riveting read from the disaster point of view but a well detailed account of the whole “Everest for paying guests” package, which was the original brief.

I was shocked at the poor health of many of the climbers and the lack of preparation. I thought to attempt a climb to the summit, even a guided, assisted climb, top health would be compulsory. I can’t help thinking lives were lost because people who were not fit to climb were on the mountain. And there were several small errors of judgement which led to big failures. (This all reminds me of Scott’s errors.) I’m no climbing expert but neither were many of the climbers…what on earth were they doing there?

I like the author’s style…not literary (not what I want for this kind of account) and not dumbed down (not what I want on any account!). Not a book I would normally pick up but it was a welcome easy change, much needed during the bad chemo days.


So far I have read only Cherry-Garrard’s introduction to this but, oh my! I guess like many people I really only had a vague knowledge of Scott’s fatal South Pole trek, I had no idea about the disasters which befell the other parties on various scientific, natural history and depot laying journeys during the 1911  expedition. I know I’m going to enjoy reading this and look forward to posting more about it.

I am enjoying this though not finding as much time to read it as I would like. What would be useful is one map showing everything. I often lose track of who’s gone where and who’s left at which hut or camp and it takes looking at more than one map in more than one place in the book to get it straight in my head.

Mr Cherry-Garrard has now set off for Cape Crozier and the Emperor penguins. It still seems to me that no-one, not the men, the dogs nor the ponies were ever going to be fit enough to make it to the South Pole and back; and the supplies were woefully lacking and they all knew it. I get the impression Scott, knowing Amundsen was heading for the Pole was going for it no matter what. I may be doing him an injustice so I shall read a couple more people’s accounts then Ranulph Feinnes’ book, which praises Scott, then still be undecided…


I finished Scott’s Journal at 2.00am in bed this morning. I got up at 7.00 and read all the appendices…that’s how much I loved it!

The journal was written as a record and clearly with a view to publication yet it still possesses an intimacy which sometimes made me feel as if I was prying. There are entries which are less than riveting (temperature and wind direction not being my thing, though I did understand the significance) but mostly the entries are fascinating.

I know there are those who think Scott was to blame for the deaths and I know there are others who think he did all he could. I’m no expert but I think he did the best he could given the  result of his poor preparations and planning. The conditions were worse than expected and luck was in short supply but maybe with enough fuel (should have changed those seals!) and enough snow shoes for the ponies (should have brought them all!) these could have been overcome. 

From a scientific point of view the expedition was invaluable; from a human point of view it was a terrible waste. I’m about to read “Captain Scott” by Ranulph Fiennes who I believe to be sympathetic towards Scott, so maybe I’ll change my mind.

EDIT: The more I read, the more I think Scott made some very ill-judged decisions. I’m hoping as I read yet more, I may understand why.

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